Parliamentary committee proposes govt registration and oversight of all churches

Proposals to ban snakehandling and curtail fraudulent ministers an overreach of authority by the state, church leaders say

Church leaders in South Africa have urged the African National Congress government of President Jacob Zuma to reject a proposal presented to parliament in July that all ministers and places of worship be regulated by the state.

The Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL) recommended that all faith leaders and places of worship be registered with an accredited religious entity. This accredited organization would report to “peer-evaluation” committees, who would report to the CRL.

In its submission to parliament, the CRL chairwoman, Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva, said mandatory registration with the state would ensure religious leaders did not violate human rights as codified under state law and would facilitate taxation of church properties and revenues.

The CRL said the impetus for is recommendations came after a series of highly publicized incidents when leaders of African Independent Congregations commanded their followers to drink snake venom The CRL said that groups that took a literal interpretation of Mark 16:18,  “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”, violated the dignity of South African citizens.

Last month Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Dutch Reformed and other Christian church leaders endorsed a petition objecting to the law. Church leaders in the Eastern Cape endorsed a letter saying: “Millions of our brothers and sisters will hold the ANC government, as the majority party, responsible if these proposals become law. We will actively campaign against any party that supports these proposals. We will strongly encourage our millions of members to vote against any party that supports the CRL report.”

Freedom of Religion SA (FOR SA) executive director Michael Swain released a statement saying that while the examples raised in the report of abuse were real, the solutions proposed by the CRL were wrongheaded.  The theft of offerings and abuse of ministerial office were already criminal offenses that did not need a new regulatory body to control.  The CRL, he said, “an institution of the state‚ wants to meddle in religious affairs.”

The Anglican Bishop of Port Elizabeth, the Rt. Rev. Bethlehem Nopece told The Herald he opposed recommendations. “We are already subjected to the laws of the country, anything further than that is interference from government,” he said, adding “We are governed by the laws of the Bible and that is not something government can interfere with.”

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